I can’t think of a more generic, run-of-the-mill rap name than Young Thug. In a trap-dominated world of ‘young’ this and ‘lil’ that, a name like ‘Young Thug’ seems so generic that it’s almost parodic, a mockery of the genre’s unoriginal naming conventions. And I’ll admit, when people continued to sing the praises of Thug’s originality, I was sceptical. But, as my first listen of 2015’s Slime Season once proved, the artist himself is anything but; Thugger is making some of trap’s most bizarrely enigmatic music.
Of course, Thug’s music kicks off in traditional trap fashion, a series of sub basses peppered amidst an steady wave of hi-hats. But as soon as Thug steps on the mic, everything changes. It’s his voice that is the most immediate oddity: Thug experiments with the voice like no-one else in the genre. From Drippin’s demonic gurgles to Killed Before’s bird-like trills, it’s hard to find a Thug track without some form of vocal experimentation. Hell, 2017’s Family Don’t Matter even sees the Atlanta rapper imitate a deep, Southern accent to deliver the iconic “Country Billy made a couple milly”. This uniqueness is similarly reflected in Thug’s lyrics. While he sticks to the classic trap landmarks of money, women and clothes (perhaps lacking the pained flipside of contemporaries such as Future and 03 Greedo), Thug approaches the subjects in a way that continually feels fresh, with lavish lifestyles described in consistently quotable ways.
Which is why Thug’s latest release, Slime Language, feels such a regression. A label showcase for Thug’s YSL Records imprint, Slime Language feels more like a Black Panther: The Album than a JEFFERY or EBBTG. And Thug, to his credit, plays his part to a decent degree; while his voice features far less of the experimentation we’ve come to expect, this slightly more generic approach isn’t a horrendous idea when trying to showcase other artists’ abilities. It’s clear that Thug isn’t the real problem here, it’s the artists he’s promoting.
I’ll put it in simple terms: most of the features on Slime Language sound like Young Thug. Whether it’s an established contemporary like Gunna or a protegé like Lil Keed, Thug’s features all embody the tonal shifts, frenetic delivery and drawling vocals of their curator. But with a vibrant artist like Young Thug at the helm, similar voices simply feel less interesting: what do these new voices provide that Thug doesn’t? This is embodied perfectly on Dirty Shoes, a collaboration with recent star and YSL-signee Gunna. After Thug’s verse (which itself is relatively lackluster), Gunna’s voice just seems like more of the same – he doesn’t get to shine like he has across his Drip Season mixtape series. This same effect plagues the record – Chanel, while reading like the holy trinity of new ATL trap, drags out with little variation, while U Ain’t Slime Enough is immediately ruined by Karlae’s bland-sounding hook. Even Lil Uzi Vert, one of the new wave’s most unique figures, fails to make an impression, delivering a tacked-on verse that adds nothing to It’s A Slime.
There is one shining exception to this rule, however, and that is Jacquees. On late track January 1st, Jacquees’ retro-style hook adds some much-needed flavour to the album, taking control of the track completely with just 7 lines. It’s a shame that the track is swiftly ruined by yet another Thug clone, Trap Boy Freddy, who delivers another unimportant, half-felt Thug-style verse. While January 1st is far from my favourite track on the project, it certainly fills its purpose in drawing intrigue to the label’s talents.
As expected, the tape’s best moments come when Thug is allowed total freedom. The opening track Tsunami is the clearest example of Thug’s creative identity, bringing a set of cadences, deliveries and intonations that is utterly electric. The minimalist beat only hammers this further home, giving Thug a blank canvas on which to deliver his unique vocal performances. The same can be seen on the only other solo track on here, Gain Clout. Despite the abysmal track title, Gain Clout is a thrilling performance, with Thug’s voice skating over the beat as it transforms from majestic guitar plucks to a thundering trap pace. Joining these solo tracks is the eccentrically catchy Audemar, beginning with a inhuman ‘skir’ noise (yes, that is still Young Thug’s voice) before being fleshed out into an impressive Thug jam. While these tracks don’t match Thug’s creative highs, they’re all consistently good, and definitely merit a place in any slime’s playlist.
If it seems like this review has skipped over many of the project’s tracks, it’s because there’s not much to say. While highlights like Tsunami and Scoliosis are present, they’re tucked away, hidden between filler track after filler track. Aside from those mentioned previously, there’s little to say: Oh Yeah, Goin Up, STS and Chains Chokin Me are utterly stale, while Expensive is passable at best. I will concede that final track Slimed In is catchy, but even it falls victim to the pattern of blandness that seems to characterise the rest of the project.
The problem with Slime Language is incredibly simple: it’s a showcase of talents where the talents don’t come off as more than cheap knock-offs. The repeated attempts at imitating Thug rob YSL’s artists of any form of personality, creating a mishmash of washed out, cheapened Thugger tracks. Slime Language isn’t offensively bad, per say, but at least bad albums stand out: Slime Language feels throwaway, with most tracks fading out of memory after the first listen. Young Thug is an pioneer, a trailblazer of auto-crooned trap, and yet Slime Language is as bland as they come.
Picks:Tsunami, Gain Clout, Audemar, Scoliosis